He was never ranked as the No. 1 pitching prospect in all of minor league baseball, but he was a top 100 prospect for several years coming up through the Minnesota Twins' farm system. And right-hander Kyle Gibson, a first-round draft pick in 2009 and the oldest member of the Baltimore clubhouse at 35, provided a strong endorsement this week for his rotation mate, Grayson Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, 23, currently is the No. 1 pitching prospect and ranked No. 4 overall in the top 100 by Baseball America and No. 6 by MLBPipeline.com.
But in his most recent outing Monday against the Los Angeles Angels, he gave up eight runs in 3 1/3 innings. He is 2-1 with a 6.57 ERA on the year, allowing an opponent OPS of .923. At times opponents have hit his fastball hard.
But Gibson, known to be a great and supportive teammate, will let you know he sees big things ahead for Rodriguez. He said that while the right-hander looks for most consistency with his pitches, another thing he needs to do right now is block out the outside noise. Maybe easy to say and harder to do since Gibson is aware some fans are questioning whether Rodriguez is all he was said to be as a top prospect.
Not an easy place to be for a young pitcher who awaits a start tomorrow afternoon in Toronto against a quality lineup.
“I understand that people want to have things to talk about and media wants to analyze as much as possible, but honestly the mute button on social media is the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Gibson said yesterday in the O’s clubhouse. “I heard somebody say, ‘Why would you listen to criticism from someone when it’s not a person you would ask their opinion in another situation?’
“He’s got to be able to understand – no offense to media or fans or anything – fans that are saying any negative talk right now, that has nothing to do with who he is. There is no one with higher expectations for him than himself. This is hard to do as a young guy. There is a lot of pressure on him with the prospect status and everything else. But I do believe it helps when the team is winning.
“In 2017, I had a 9.00 ERA through eight starts, and I got sent down for the first time. I was looking around the room thinking I was the reason we were losing every fifth day when we were winning other days.
“But no one in this locker room – which is the opinion that should matter the most to him – is looking around saying, ‘Man I can’t believe Grayson is still here.’ Because we all know how good he is.”
Rodriguez has shown flashes of being a good MLB pitcher. In four of his starts this year he has allowed two, zero, zero and two runs. In the other four he has given up four, five, six and eight runs.
“I have talked with a decent amount," added Gibson. "I think the biggest things for pitchers, which is different for hitters, we have to learn how our stuff plays at this level, against this type of hitter. Nothing against Triple-A hitters, there are many big league hitters there right now. But you see it with every player, if he has 13 strikeouts per nine in Triple-A, he will have nine in the big leagues. In he has 11 in Triple-A, he will have seven in the big leagues. Your stuff plays differently when you get against a team that is no longer individually game planning for you, but as a team.
“I think whether it’s pitch selection, pitch location, nerves, being comfortable, a lot of that plays into it. I’ve been in his shoes. I had a 6.50 ERA for my first 10 starts in the big leagues. I was supposed to be whatever with the Twins – first-round pick and a polished pitcher. You go through growing pains. You say, ‘This slider gets swung and missed at all the time, why is that not happening in this situation?
“He has swing and miss stuff and he will for a long time. But as he figures out the combination of his stuff and how it plays off each other and to certain hitters, he’s going to take off. Once you get here you are often a little adjustment away. Sometimes it can look like someone needs a massive overhaul to get it right, but for the most part that is not so. It’s a small adjustment here, a little tweak there. He’s going to be just fine.”
But can getting hit hard mess with his confidence?
“It can,” said Gibson. “But you can’t get forget what you are as a pitcher and that if you have failure, don't let that define you. His failure is just an event, it is not an identity to define him. But you have to learn from the bad starts. If you are not, you are just wasting your time. You have to figure out how to adjust and he can and will.”
Added Gibson: “Your bad stuff at this level, it gets exposed. When you are really good, you will dominate Triple-A or here. When you are average throwing at another level, you are still going to get by. When you are bad you still can have a decent start. Here it’s trying to figure out how to limit the damage when you are bad, how to maximize when you are average and how to not mess it up when you are having a really good day.”
Gibson said the bottom line is that the clubhouse believes in the kid.
“We are all here to support him. He’s an absolute stud," he said.